Filmmakers turn to books in search for the next big hit

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New Delhi: Books are increasingly becoming ready content for movies. Today, at any given point, publishers are negotiating deals for at least 8-10 titles in their catalogues with filmmakers and content creators. The stakes are high—these deals could be worth between Rs15 lakh and Rs25 lakh each.

Digital publisher Juggernaut sold the greatest number of books in its catalogue towards film rights this year. Publishers such as Penguin Random House India, Rupa Publications and HarperCollins have doubled the inventory sold to creators to about 10 so far this year, as against about four-five in 2016.

Penguin’s The Brave: Param Vir Chakra stories by Rachna Bisht and World’s Best Boyfriend by Durjoy Dutta, HarperCollins’s Serious Men by Manu Joseph and Strangers to Ourselves by Shashi Desphande, Rupa’s How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-Founded a Million Dollar Company by Varun Aggarwal and Juggernaut’s City of Death by Abheek Barua and Mission Overseas: Daring Operations By The Indian Military by Sushant Singh are all being recreated for the big screen. In addition to this list is Vikram Chandra’s Mumbai crime story Sacred Games and Selection Day, a story of cricket and corruption by author Aravind Adiga that are also being made as Netflix originals.

Word to Screen, a platform for writers to pitch their books to filmmakers, started last year at the Mumbai film festival, is expecting to sell at least 10 titles in 2017 to be made into films.

“Content has never been as valuable as it is today especially with the proliferation of streaming platforms. The buzz around Sacred Games is huge. That’s definitely led to filmmakers looking for more collaborations. Creators are looking for content more aggressively than ever before,” said Arpita Das, curator, Word to Screen.

Vaishali Mathur, executive editor and head of language publishing at Penguin Random House India, said, “This realization has set in that books are ready content. And with big publishing houses like Penguin Random House, there is the advantage of a massive backlist that gives much available content to the producers and production houses.”

According to Anish Chandy, head of business development and sales at Juggernaut, there is a perceived shift in the audiences’ minds that stories are more important than the stars. “The rise of platforms has definitely led to more hunger for content. Filmmakers are increasingly looking for words based on a true story or stories set in India,” he said.

Kapish Mehra, managing director at Rupa Publications India, said the trend is led by the change and evolution of Indian audiences. “Interesting off-beat stories have a popular appeal. The narrative has to be sound, storytelling has never been so critical,” he added.

For studios and filmmakers, the trend is all about finding that rare good story.

Rucha Pathak, chief creative officer at Fox Star Studios, which is negotiating book deals with a host of publishers, said there was renewed interaction between filmmakers and book publishers.

“More books are being adapted and being optioned for adaptations than ever before. Book adaptations have been happening for a while in Indian cinema but with the push for good content over the last few years, books have become important source material for movies once again,” she explained.

Shamath Mazumdar, head of content at Aamir Khan Productions, said the search for a good story is powering the trend. “It is the search for a good story that takes us to the world of books, plays, news reports, real-life heroes, etc. So the real trend has always been finding that story that takes us there. Having said that, the ecosystem for this has developed only over the last few years,” he said. In the ecosystem, he refers to initiatives such as Word to Screen that have opened more doors for books to be made into movies.

Penguin’s Mathur said there is great demand for both fiction and non-fiction, but the scales tip in favour of non-fiction.

“The need is for strong storylines. The most in demand are stories of great personal achievement by an individual. Then come memoirs, biographies and other slice-of-life stories. In fiction, there is great demand for thrillers and romance,” she said.

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